Time is running out for steelhead fishing on some of our local rivers. Several Grays Harbor rivers will close to fishing for the season on Feb. 28.
In our area, the streams which will close to fishing on this date include: Stevens Creek, Elk River, Johns River, Hoquiam River, Wishkah River, the middle and west forks of the Satsop River and Cloquallum Creek.
There are a few instances where the regulations change at the end of February to a different set of rules for the month of March. This situation occurs on the upper Humptulips River and the West Fork of the Humptulips River. In essence, the rule change is catch and release except up to two hatchery steelhead may be retained. Selective gear rules apply and internal combustion motors are prohibited.
When it comes to selective gear rules, several restrictions apply. For instance, only unscented artificial flies or lures with one single-point, barbless hook are allowed. Up to a total of three artificial flies or lures, each containing one single-point barbless hook may be used. Bait is prohibited and fish may be released until the daily limit is retained. Only knotless nets may be used to land fish except where specifically allowed under the “Special Rules” for individual waters. If any fish has swallowed the hook or is hooked in the gill, eye, or tongue, it should be kept if legal to do so.
I realize it starts getting pretty technical in terms of the regulations from now to the final date of the season. The reason is for the protection of the fish as they approach their spawning waters at the time of the year when this occurs. Releasing fish, keeping combustion engines away and even in some cases, anglers provides for a more undisturbed environment for the fish.
As we approach the end of February, there is a transition occurring in regard to the steelhead themselves. Whereas the hatchery fish have primarily inhabited the rivers, we can now begin to see some wild fish move in. These fish will intermingle with the hatchery steelhead so anglers will have to sort out wild fish from the hatchery variety.
When it comes to the wild steelhead there are actually two varieties. First, there is the native stock. I would think there are very few of these fish around. They are those which are native to the river and never mated with other forms of steelhead. Then there are the wild fish which are the product of all forms of steelhead. They will be born in the river, grow and go to sea. They will come back to the river of their origin with an intact dorsal and adipose fin because they were never clipped.
Hatchery steelhead are specifically those fish which have been reared in a hatchery and have been marked accordingly. They will generally have an altered dorsal fin but in most cases, a missing adipose fin.
At this time, the numbers of hatchery steelhead exceed that of the wild fish. Henceforth, the rules and regulations to protect those fish because some of them may actually be native steelhead.